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Cultural Orphans in America

Publication Year: 2008

Images of orphanhood have pervaded American fiction since the colonial period. Common in British literature, the orphan figure in American texts serves a unique cultural purpose, representing marginalized racial, ethnic, and religious groups that have been scapegoated by the dominant culture. Among these groups are the Native Americans, the African Americans, immigrants, and Catholics. In keeping with their ideological function, images of orphanhood occur within the context of family metaphors in which children represent those who belong to the family, or the dominant culture, and orphans represent those who are excluded from it. In short, the family as an institution provides the symbolic stage on which the drama of American identity formation is played out. Applying aspects of psychoanalytic theory that pertain to identity formation, specifically RenéGirard's theory of the scapegoat, Cultural Orphans in America examines the orphan trope in early American texts and the antebellum nineteenth-century American novel as a reaction to the social upheaval and internal tensions generated by three major episodes in American history: the Great Migration, the American Revolution, and the rise of the republic. In Puritan religious texts and Anne Bradstreet's poetry, orphan imagery expresses the doubt and uncertainty that shrouded the mission to the New World. During the Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary periods, the separation of the colony from England inspired an identification with orphanhood in Thomas Paine's writings, and novels by Charles Brockden Brown and James Fenimore Cooper encode in orphan imagery the distinction be-tween Native Americans and the new Americans who have usurped their position as children of the land. In women's sentimental fiction of the 1850s, images of orphanhood mirror class and ethnic conflict, and Uncle Tom's Cabin, like Frederick Douglass's autobiographies, employs orphan imagery to suggest the slave's orphanhood from the human as well as the national family. Diana Loercher Pazicky has taught multi-ethnic literature at Rider University and is currently a member of the Integration of Knowledge Department at Bucks County Community College. She was formerly a staff correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. vii

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pp. xi-xx

This book is about orphans, real and imaginary, in early America and what their actual treatment and textual representation signify about cultural values. This book is also about how the past is the present, how the legacy of early America — of the Puritans, the revolutionaries, the Founding Fathers, and the leaders of the new republic—has shaped the "family values" that are a social and political touchstone in our culture today. ...

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CHAPTER 1: The Puritans as Orphans

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pp. 1-24

The most important secular institution in Puritan culture was the family. The family was not only the primary source of stability and security but a model for social and political institutions that incorporated its patriarchal and hierarchical structure. The family model also influenced the nature of interaction with other groups and cultures. Despite the earlier belief that the Puritan...

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CHAPTER 2: The Puritans as Aggressors

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pp. 25-50

In terms of their social attitudes, the Puritans were marked by nothing so much as their insularity, their antagonistic, exclusionary policy toward those whom they viewed as different. While this policy devolved logically from aspects of Puritan tradition and history, the colonial experience had the effect of calcifying the hermetic social order and encouraging hostile attitudes toward outsiders. ...

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CHAPTER 3: The Revolution

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pp. 51-85

Following the Great Migration, the next major episode in American history to inspire an effusion of family imagery was the American Revolution. The rupture between England and America revived old memories of the traumatic separation between parent and child and sharpened the distinction between children and orphans, those who belonged to the family of the new republic...

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CHAPTER 4: Tales of Captivity and Adoption

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pp. 86-117

As the previous chapter explained, the xenophobia that manifested itself at the end of the eighteenth century was inseparable from racist attitudes toward the Indians. For the new nation struggling in the aftermath of the Revolution to define the meaning of America, the Indians represented a threat from within whereas the immigrants represented a threat from without. Both also served...

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CHAPTER 5: The Rise of the Republic

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pp. 118-148

Metaphorically speaking, the Revolution entailed a reconfiguration of the family in which sons replaced fathers, first through violent overthrow and then through generational succession. With the formation of the republic, the notion of citizenship became fundamental, and the Founding Fathers distinguished between natural children who belonged by birthright to the family of the republic and unadoptable orphans, ...

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CHAPTER 6: Sentimental Strategies in "Orphan Tales"

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pp. 149-177

Because orphans were such a ubiquitous and disturbing presence in mid-nineteenth-century American cities, it is hardly surprising that they figure so prominently in sentimental fiction. What is surprising, however, is that fictional orphans are so unrepresentative of society's real orphans, who were stationary, as opposed to upwardly mobile, members of the underclass. From a cultural standpoint, a literary work can be as important for those aspects of social reality it does not portray as for those it does. ...

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CHAPTER 7:The Negro as Ultimate Orphan

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pp. 178-201

Negroes, like immigrants, were left out of sentimental fiction just as they were left out of the family of the republic. At best, they appear briefly in novels as slaves or servants, and their function tends to be either decorative or comic. In general, they are portrayed as stereotypes rather than fully developed characters. There are, however, a few instances in which Negroes appear as orphans, and these illustrate how the separation of slaves not only from their own families but from the human family reflects the insidious relationship between race and class. ...


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pp. 203-210


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pp. 211-223


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pp. 225-232

E-ISBN-13: 9781617030932
E-ISBN-10: 1617030937
Print-ISBN-13: 9781604731927
Print-ISBN-10: 1604731923

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2008